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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: July 20, 2010 @ 10:48 pm

    Donegal Reflections

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    You are all familiar with the expression, “I hadn’t got time to bless myself”. This week, your humble scribe has been in Donegal covering the MacGill Summer School and hasn’t had time to blog.

    Last year’s school was devoted to the banking and economic crisis and the contributors and lecturers dominated the news media for the week. This year, the official subject is political reform but the economic crisis keeps rearing its head.

    The two topics are interrelated. The economic crisis was probably inevitable but there was a severe lack of an early-warning system. There were some prophets of doom all right but they didn’t get any attention.

    Anyone with a brain in his or her head knew that the rise in house prices could not continue but there was very little thought given to when and how the bubble would burst.

    Although there was a big homegrown contribution to the crisis, it is of course international in scale. Hardly anybody anywhere in an official or governmental position saw what was coming: only a few voices in the academic world.

    It’s funny how the type of analysis that was prevalent way back in my student days and wasn’t taken very seriously by many people then has suddenly come back into vogue and seems to carry more credibility.

    Our economic system is characterised by repeated boom-and-bust crises. For some readers this will be their first one, although I am sure a good many remember the 1980s.

    Being a little longer in the tooth, the present writer remembers the oil crisis of the mid-1970s, brought on by the conflict  in the Middle East: the Yom Kippur War.

    That was a rotten time when looking for a job was a nightmare and I can still see the “PFO” (Please Feck Off) letters piling halfway to the ceiling. My heart goes out to the young generation nowadays who are striving to obtain employment.

    There was much  criticism of the Celtic Tiger phenomenon but one of the great things about it was that emigration more or less ended and we even had immigration, incredible to relate. The place seemed to be awash with glamorous East European ladies with Ph.D.’s in agricultural production.

    Now we read that emigration is back. My reaction at one time would have been deep sorrow and despair but, given the international nature of the crisis, I am relieved that there is work for people somewhere, even if it is outside the country.

    One of the good things about a boom and bust system is that the current bust should be followed by another boom. Unless of course the prophets of doom are right and we are in for a “double-dip recession”. That hardly bears thinking about.

    • Kynos says:

      And still the grey wing spreads upon the tide but now it’s also a tide of electrons and we have skype and VOIP and email and Messenger, 747s and luxurious fast ferries that can take yer car or Harley we got trains planes an automobiles we’ll soon have low orbit passenger rockets that parabola from one side of the earth to the other in a few hours. There’s an Irish bar in Alpha Centuari you may be sure right alongside the McDonalds. We’ve got Bono and Sir Bob and their seven league boots. There isn’t a spot left of dry land on this earth where some paddy hasn’t rubbed his brow looked up at the sun or the stars and mused upon a pint of Harp or Guinness or Kilkenny or Bulmers and had a Sally O’Brien to bring it to him not more than 10 miles away and most often ten feet. It isn’t an American Wake any longer Declan. Travel broadens the mind the horizons and the emigrant remittances, which were once the only (invisible) export we had asides from the visible exports that earned them and sent them back. These days they can nearly be back themselves quicker than Western Union can send the cash home to the mammy or as likely the wee wumman and the kids. A lot of our emigrants can come home at will. Many even take care they don’t stay a moment longer than 183 days. That’s how well they’ve done for themselves. Whatever about the tax system. Which they’ve done well as well come to think of it. Some of them.

    • robespierre says:

      You are both right in different ways. Kynos: It is not an American wake anymore and travel for those working legally is relatively affordable and commodious (perhaps not quite as much from the Antipodes).

      I do agree with Deaglán in the main however. Before all the irrational exuberance outstripped the export based economy circa the year 2000, we had dared to hope that our sons and daughters would have a legitimate expectation to get work in Ireland or travel to broaden the mind and experience if that is what they would like to do.

    • Barra says:

      “Anyone with a brain in his or her head knew that the rise in house prices could not continue but there was very little thought given to when and how the bubble would burst.”

      With all due respect Deaglán, if that was the case where was The Irish Times in spreading that message or questioning the parties on the issue? All we got during the 2007 election was an orgy of media frenzy over whether or not stamp duty would be abolished while the property supplements weighed us readers down every Tuesday and Thursday.

      The government are getting the blame and rightly so, but the media seem incapable of critically examining their role in the boom. Even now, the amount of uncritical regurgitation of the latest press release or “consultancy report” is astounding. Never any question of who paid for it, whether the facts measure up. Just a copy-paste job. Not targeting you, but your news editors need to up their game.

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      Why isn’t Madam at the school explaining herself like other people or is that beneath her what with her being a PD and all – as I keep saying denial is a stronger emotion than any other and it seems Madam is more afflicted by it than most – actually it seems to be an affliction that greatly affects anyone who has links to the PDs.

      There is not one single part of Irish society who comes out of this mess well – be it the interlinked cronyism of business/politics/professions to the religious to the media to the cultural commentators to the ‘ordinary’ people and the way time and time again they voted for people they knew were unfit to be in public office and refused to listen to warnings that there were consequences for voting for those sort of people …

      There is no other modern parliamentary democracy where every single check and balance failed so spectacularly – am I wrong?

      That’s the issue we need to address and I think it flows right back to the generation who stayed in Ireland during the famine and were born immediately after – those born were either born to people emotionally and physically ‘bad’ due to their lack of food and what they had been through – there must be consequences in the following generations to children born into such abject poverty and then there were the people who prospered on the misery of so many – anyone in Ireland whose family has land would do well to research how they came into that land and the findings might make for sober reading – how many farms expanded at the expense of the neighbour who was evicted or starved to death etc.

      Did we turn into those who survived on the backs of others and did whatever it took to retain that position and those who just survived and never got to a position where they were strong enough to fight back – they were always just surviving.

      The legacy of that famine generation and its impact on following generations is at the root of why Irish people have such low standards when it comes to honesty and accountability which in turn is reflected all around us today be it in what we allowed the church to do to children and unmarried mothers (but never the unmarried fathers of course ) and in business, politics, the professions and what passed as culture in Ireland, which was of course interlinked back to the church, politics, business and the professions.

    • Patrick Hennessy says:

      Getting off the island in droves now and again is fundamentally important to the future of the nation. The housing bubble was the result of too many people feeding from the same trough of opinions; group think. I returned every summer to Ireland and was gobsmacked by all these 30 something young people who swore to God that there was no bubble on the horizon. “Not a brain in their head” No , they had a brain……….only problem was every brain carried around the same idea.

      Fast forward to 2020 when a bunch of the young emigrants of today will come back and throw a whole new plethora of thinking into the pot.

      The bunch that came back in the early 90ies helped the “group think” move away from blind obedience to the Church and move away from the group think that two males or females cannot sleep in the same bed and even tie the knot.

      So this new bunch in 2020 will throw the politics of the Free State out the window, retire the Brians and Endas of the island perpetually, throw in a spice of culture and multiculturalism and we will all end up with a black lesbian atheist taoiseach who will speak Irish and carry the ould shamrock to the White House on the 17th. sure its a grand little country.

      I say let there be a clean out every 30/40 years ….does wonders for the island.


    • minxie says:

      At the risk of exacerbating anyone’s ennui and/or laying bare a body’s ignorance re all things politico/economic – and while we’re waiting for economic recovery (yawn agus zzzzz) – wouldn’t it be something if all the unemployed people in the country in receipt of payments from the Dept. Social Welfare – and who would much prefer to be working – could be recruited (from right across the spectrum of occupations) to construct giant pyramids – based on Egyptian models, or maybe some other gigantic geometric structures like giant spheroids or ellipsoids – anyway some magnificent, eye-catching structures and all the people involved in constructing them could feel useful and perhaps the raw materials could be obtained from the recycled materials of deconstructed ghost estates, which were constructed by people who felt useful constructing them. Does it matter as long as people are doing something constructive to pass the time……….and maybe the finished structures could be used for something useful, like giant bee-hives, for example or just left there as giant sculptures to be admired as art and in the process raise consciousness of the aesthetics of form – for our time and for posterity.

      It was always going to be the case regarding “work” carried out by humans that humans would become more and more redundant as the age of automation/technology advanced and very much more so now that that has now been overtaken by, or rather merged into, the Computer Age/Information Era and on account of the Digital Revolution, where economies are based on the manipulation of information and which is giving rise to a new elite which has the intelligence to be the masters in this kind of manipulation. We are probably caught in one of those in-between times in history where the ‘old’ system seems to be collapsing, as in the Great Depression or between World Wars and where no one really knows what’s going to happen next or what “work” or “employment” will look like……….but in the meantime why not make pyramids. I suppose it wouldn’t do anything for the economy but it would put the colour back in the cheeks of the…er…slaves – which would make the government the masters (well, what else is new, the master/slave model is a recurring pattern throughout human history). At any rate, imo it would also be a very good idea to scrap the lotto, which has given rise to a culture of great expectations of monetary reward based on doing absolutely nothing at all…

    • My what a thoughtful and reflective group of commentators! Like many people’s, my house increased in value during the boom and now it’s worth about half its value in, say, 2006-7. Would that I had possessed the foresight to sell it, move into a mobile home in Rush and then wait until the prices collapsed before buying my next residence. The problem is, Barra, that in the immortal words of Hollywood mogul Sam Goldwyn, “Predictions are very hard to make – especially about the future.”

    • kynos says:

      Primo Levi said the same of his own people also Desmond Fitzgerald. He said “We left the best of us behind in the Camps”. And for the same reason.

    • kynos says:

      Yes Robespierre it would be nice to have the choice I agree. But we’ve done made all our choices now and the future won’t be something so much as ‘choosing to’ than ‘having to’ as a result. Back to Desmond Fitzgerald’s comment again. Seems don’t it that all the meek inherit is a shovelful of dirt?

    • kynos says:

      I don’t know about ALL pyramids being eye-catching minxie. I think the one on the US Dollar Bill sort of has Its own eye anyway as does the Tent in Ballybrit. As, needless to add, does Sauron’s. But then I repeat myself not once but twice.

    • kynos. HRH. says:

      She’ll be more likley to speak Chinese Patrick but at least she’ll have been born here (provided of course her parents were living here for at least three years pre-natal) so she’ll be genuine Irish unlike some of us who weren’t bejaze.

    • m says:

      Nice place to reflect, Donegal, Deaglán. Hope you are enjoying the exhilarating climate.
      These days (for 1st Worlders at any rate) it would only really feel like emigration if it meant going to another planet — the furthest place from anywhere in Ireland or anywhere in anywhere in fact, is just a few hours (and back if it doesn’t work out) in a jet; and with Skype it’s like you’re always in the same room. Interesting to see if the whole globalization project will press on or will peoples begin to revert back to forcibly (?) securing their identities within specific boundaries. At any rate, people have a tendency to follow the money……….”gold rush” syndrome. For the 3rd Worlders, it’s still all about survival.

    • pyraminxie says:

      To His Royal Majesty King Kynos @ 10 in particular

      His Majesty may repeat himself as many times as he wishes

      Yer loyal and humble servant,

    • “Why isn’t Madam at the school explaining herself like other people or is that beneath her what with her being a PD and…it seems to be an affliction that greatly affects anyone who has links to the PDs.”

      What a load of nonsense. Listening to the guff from the thousands who trousered PD tax cuts and now claim that it’s all the fault of the PDs. I don’t remember the Revenue reporting all those thousands sending the money back. During the Celtic Tiger, we were all Progressive Democrats.

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